Tag Archives: Aston Villa

Great Goals: Dalian Atkinson – Wimbledon vs. ASTON VILLA (October 1992)

Aston Villa were one of the most exciting Premier League teams in the 1992-1993 season and they pushed Manchester United very close in the title race. Ron Atkinson’s side produced great entertainment and they were spearheaded by a formidable attacking partnership of Dean Saunders and Dalian Atkinson.

At Selhurst Park in October 1992, Atkinson scored the Goal of the Season and it was all his own work. He won possession in his own half and went on a mazy run through the heart of the pitch, evading three Wimbledon defending challenges. He had options, including Saunders to his left-hand side but Atkinson was only interested in scoring himself.

Spotting the goalkeeper slightly off his line, he then produced a delicious chip which found the back of the net. It was a goal extremely fitting to win any contest when Dalian was at the peak of his powers.

Dalian Atkinson died on 15th August 2016. He was just 48-years-old. His legacy will always be marked by this world-class goal.

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Iconic Moments: Lampard becomes Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer (May 2013)

When Chelsea signed Frank Lampard from London rivals West Ham United in the summer of 2001, they knew they were getting a midfielder who was capable of scoring goals. However, no-one at the time could have imagined the achievements Lampard would go on to make in west London.

He would win three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. One of the Premier League’s greatest ambassadors, Lampard always had a knack of scoring goals from making runs into the penalty area and also trying his luck from distance and often finding the target.

In May 2013, Lampard was approaching the end of his current contract and also closing in on becoming Chelsea’s all-time record goalscorer. Against Aston Villa at Villa Park, Lampard equalled the record held by Bobby Tambling with his 202nd goal for the club. Close to full-time, he made another burst into the box and guided in Eden Hazard’s cross to achieve history. He now had 203 goals for Chelsea, becoming their highest goalscorer in the club’s proud and distinguished history.

It won Chelsea the points that afternoon and he signed a new one-year contract a few days later. He left in the summer of 2014, finishing with 211 goals and his name etched firmly in Chelsea’s history.

Premier League Files: Marlon Harewood

Premier League Career: Nottingham Forest (1998-1999), West Ham United (2005-2007), Aston Villa (2007-2008), Blackpool (2010-2011)

Marlon Harewood played for no fewer than 14 different clubs before hanging up his boots in 2016 after a spell with non-league side Nuneaton Town. His most prolific run came in the Premier League during two top-flight terms with West Ham United.

Harewood was a product of the youth academy system at Nottingham Forest and made his league debut in 1998. He’d already tasted success in a loan spell with FC Haka in Finland, winning the Finnish Cup and the league championship and had another brief loan period with Ipswich Town. Forest were relegated from the Premier League in 1999 but Harewood started to emerge as one of the best strikers in the First Division. He formed a good partnership with his close friend David Johnson and scored 51 goals in 124 appearances for the former European Cup winners.

His contract at The City Ground was due to expire in 2004. The club offered him a new deal but it was a weaker contract which included a drop in wages. Understandably upset, the offer was rejected by the player and he left to join recently-relegated West Ham United for £500,000 in November 2003. He was West Ham’s top goalscorer in 2004-2005, scoring 23 goals in all competitions as the Hammers returned to the Premier League via the play-offs.

Alan Pardew was the manager and he decided Harewood was the man who should spearhead the club’s attack on their top-flight return. Feeling extremely confident because of this, Marlon scored the first hat-trick of the 2005-2006 season, netting a treble in the 4-0 home win over Aston Villa. Two months later, he scored the club’s quickest goal of the campaign, finding the back of the net inside 52 seconds of the 2-1 defeat against Manchester United. In April 2006, it was Harewood’s goal in the FA Cup semi-finals at Villa Park against Middlesbrough that took West Ham into the final at the Millennium Stadium which ended in an agonising penalty shootout loss to Liverpool FC. In total, he finished with impressive figures of 14 Premier League goals and was the club’s top scorer for a second successive season.

Like many of his Hammers teammates, there was a drop in form in 2006-2007 for Harewood, although he did score a famous late winner at home to Arsenal which sparked a dramatic late altercation on the touchline between his manager Pardew and opposition boss Arsene Wenger. However, the arrival of Carlos Tevez and improvement in Bobby Zamora saw Harewood drop down the pecking order.

After scoring just three times that campaign, he decided to leave the Londoners and joined Aston Villa in July 2007 for £4 million. It looked set Harewood was to join Wigan Athletic until a late intervention from Martin O’Neill swayed Harewood’s decision. It did mean he would be just a peripheral figure though which to start with, seemed to be something Harewood was happy to accept. In November 2007, he scored his 100th league career goal in the 4-0 victory at Blackburn Rovers. He scored another four times in the Premier League including a goal in a 2-2 draw at Anfield and the fans seemed to appreciate his work-rate when arriving from the bench.

O’Neill continued to use him as a regular substitute and he didn’t even start a league match in the first half of the 2008-2009 season. When Emile Heskey arrived from Wigan in January 2009, Harewood’s game time became even more limited. His time in Birmingham was coming to an end. He moved on-loan to first Wolverhampton Wanderers, then Newcastle United.

Aston Villa released him in the summer of 2010 and he was linked with a move away from the English game, with clubs from Turkey and the United States expressing an interest in Harewood. However, he stayed in the Premier League by linking up with Blackpool in August and made a fantastic start too, scoring twice in their sensational 4-0 opening day victory over Wigan Athletic. He then enjoyed his return to Villa Park in November, finding the target in Blackpool’s narrow 3-2 defeat. This was to be his final goal in the top-flight.

He was loaned to Barnsley in February 2011 and was released by Blackpool following their relegation at the end of the campaign. He ended his career with second spells with both Nottingham Forest and Barnsley, along with stints at Guangzhou R&F in China, Bristol City, Hartlepool United and lastly, Nuneaton Town.

Since retirement, Harewood has become a co-owner of AC13 Premier, a car modification business who takes requests from some of sport’s most famous stars. Among his clients include Tottenham forward Harry Kane, ex-boxer Carl Froch and Manchester City full-back Kyle Walker.

Premier League Rewind: 7th-8th November 1998

Results: Aston Villa 3-2 Tottenham Hotspur, Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Coventry City, Charlton Athletic 0-0 Leicester City, Liverpool FC 1-2 Derby County, Nottingham Forest 0-1 Wimbledon, Southampton 3-3 Middlesbrough, Arsenal 1-0 Everton, Leeds United 2-1 Sheffield Wednesday, Manchester United 0-0 Newcastle United, West Ham United 1-1 Chelsea

The 7th-8th November 1998 weekend would be one of shattering blows for an Italian striker, the end of ‘The Boot Room’ regime at a leading Premier League club and a wonderful debut for another forward in the Midlands.

The big news going into this round of games was Aston Villa’s acquisition of the ex-Manchester United forward Dion Dublin. Villa had pipped Blackburn Rovers to the signature of Dublin, who had decided to call time on his four-year spell as the leading marksman at Coventry City.

Just 48 hours after arriving at Villa Park, Dublin made his Aston Villa debut as the league leaders welcomed Tottenham Hotspur. With virtually his first opportunity, he scored after 31 minutes. Four minutes later, he made it 2-0 with another composed finish and when Stan Collymore made it 3-0 two minutes into the second half, John Gregory’s side were going to be staying as the table toppers. Despite two late goals from Darren Anderton and Ramon Vega, Villa held on for a 3-2 victory which looked more comfortable than the actual scoreline suggested. Gregory’s side were still unbeaten after 11 matches and finished the weekend two points clear. For new Tottenham manager George Graham, it was just one win from his first four matches in the post and Spurs sat a below-par 14th in the table.

Only three places above them were Liverpool FC. The Reds had won just one of their last seven matches and that run got worse when Derby County won 2-1 at Anfield. Early goals inside the first 30 minutes from Kevin Harper and Paulo Wanchope spearheaded Derby to an amazing victory. The pressure was growing on Liverpool’s wisdom of appointing joint-managers. It was Gerard Houllier and Roy Evans in the dugout together and the latter was taking most of the flak. Less than a week later, Evans had parted company with the club and Houllier would take sole charge of the team. The final link to ‘The Boot Room’ which had dominated Anfield for over 30 years had been severed.

Liverpool were some way off the pace which was being set by Villa. Among the chasing pack were Chelsea and they extended their unbeaten run to nine matches after drawing 1-1 at West Ham United. Celestine Babayaro scored the equaliser to preserve this record. However, this match would be overshadowed by a horrific injury sustained by Pierluigi Casiraghi. The Italian had scored just once and his 10th appearance for the Londoners would be his last. An unfortunate collision in the penalty area with West Ham goalkeeper Shaka Hislop led to a serious cruciate knee ligament injury. Chelsea boss Gianluca Vialli admitted his season was over but was optimistic Casiraghi could recover. In truth, he would never play professional football again, retiring in 2002 after 10 unsuccessful operations.

Defending champions Arsenal moved above Manchester United into second place. Nicolas Anelka’s early goal after six minutes was enough to defeat Everton 1-0 at Highbury whilst the Red Devils were held to a goalless draw by a stubborn Newcastle United at Old Trafford.

At the wrong end of the table, Southampton remained bottom after an enthralling 3-3 draw with Middlesbrough. The visitors had both Phil Stamp and Robbie Mustoe sent off by referee Paul Alcock and required a 90th minute equaliser from defender Gianluca Festa to rescue a point. Coventry City and Blackburn Rovers swapped places with the Sky Blues’ 2-1 win in Lancashire moving them out of the relegation zone at Blackburn’s expense.

What else happened in November 1998?

  • The United States House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee begins impeachment hearings against American president Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky scandal.
  • The European Court of Human Rights is instituted.
  • The United Kingdom formally abolishes the death penalty.
  • Former professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura is elected Governor of Minnesota.
  • Daimler-Benz completes a merger with Chrysler Corporation to form Daimler-Chrysler.
  • A new subscription movie channel from Channel 4, FilmFour is launched.
  • Mika Hakkinen wins the Japanese Grand Prix to become Formula One World Champion for the first time in his career.

Iconic Moments: Big fight afternoon on Tyneside (April 2005)

It was supposed to be a day of celebration on Tyneside when Newcastle United hosted fellow mid-table side Aston Villa in April 2005. Alan Shearer had been persuaded by the Geordies hierarchy to postpone his planned retirement and carry on playing for another season. Despite a mediocre league campaign, the Magpies were still in Europe in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals and had reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup. On this day though, a couple of their players bought the sport of boxing onto the football pitch.

The day wasn’t going to plan. Aston Villa had cruised into a 3-0 lead and Newcastle were already down to 10 men after Steven Taylor’s red card for a deliberate handball in the second half. The game was up with less than 10 minutes to play before it all exploded between midfielders Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer.

Furious that Dyer had ignored him for a simple pass, Bowyer saw red and started fighting Dyer, throwing at least three punches in his direction. Dyer threw one back more in self-defence before Villa’s Gareth Barry and stunned Newcastle teammates managed to break the pair up. Referee Barry Knight had no choice but to send both offenders off, leaving Newcastle with just eight players to finish the contest.

Both players apologised and were banned, with Bowyer taking the lion share of the blame for being the transgressor. Newcastle’s season never recovered. They finished 14th and won no silverware despite those deep cup runs. It was a shameful afternoon for everyone connected with this proud football club.

Iconic Moments: Majestic Macheda (April 2009)

Manchester United were locked in a tight battle with their North West rivals Liverpool FC in 2008-2009. Having been seven points clear in early March, the Red Devils had been beaten 4-1 at home by Liverpool before losing 2-0 to Fulham. Liverpool trimmed the deficit to just a single point and then went top after a Yossi Benayoun stoppage-time winner 24 hours earlier at Craven Cottage.

United played a day later and were struggling at home to Aston Villa. Wayne Rooney was suspended and Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were trailing 2-1 going into the last 10 minutes. Ferguson decided to throw on an untested youngster in Italian Federico Macheda. He had a great goalscoring record in the reserves but this was the big stage and he could easily have been overwhelmed by the whole experience.

Cristiano Ronaldo had brought the sides level in the 80th minute but with the game in injury-time, a draw wasn’t really enough for the reigning champions. They needed all three to claim back the momentum in the title battle. In the third minute of time added on, Macheda produced his majestic moment. He turned in the box to evade Luke Young’s challenge before curling a stunning effort past Brad Friedel. The 17-year-old had just made himself a Manchester United superstar.

His career has faded since and he now plays for Novara in Serie B in his homeland. However, his name will always be linked with a real turning point in the 2008-2009 Premier League season.

Great Goals: Gary Cahill – ASTON VILLA vs. Birmingham City (April 2006)

The Second City Derby is one of the most passionate rivalries in English football. This match in April 2006 was of massive significance to both Aston Villa and Birmingham City. Neither club was safe from relegation. With Portsmouth’s improvement in form; it was becoming more likely that one of these sides would finish the campaign in the bottom three.

The game was finely poised at 1-1 after Milan Baros and Chris Sutton had exchanged goals in the first half. In the 56th minute, a tame header from Olivier Tebily started a pinball battle in the Birmingham penalty area. Kevin Phillips had two attempts blocked. The ball span in the air and youngster Gary Cahill then improvised – in breathtaking fashion.

He leapt highest in the air and produced a sensational volley that flew past Maik Taylor. He was mobbed by his teammates and supporters and rightly so. It was the perfect time and place for him to score his first Aston Villa goal. David O’Leary’s side eventually won 3-1. They stayed up and Birmingham went down at the end of the season.

Memorable Matches: Stoke City 3-2 Aston Villa (August 2008)

Goalscorers: Liam Lawrence 30 PEN, John Carew 63, Ricardo Fuller 80, Martin Laursen 84, Mamady Sidibe 90

Teams:

Stoke City: Thomas Sorensen, Leon Cort, Andy Griffin, Carl Dickinson, Abdoulaye Faye, Rory Delap, Amdy Faye (Salif Diao 72), Seyi Olofinjana, Liam Lawrence, Ricardo Fuller (Richard Cresswell 87), Dave Kitson (Mamady Sidibe 76)

Aston Villa: Brad Friedel, Curtis Davies, Martin Laursen, Nicky Shorey (Wayne Routledge 73), Luke Young, Gareth Barry, Stiliyan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker, Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew

Referee: Mark Halsey, Attendance: 27,500

The 2008-2009 season was Stoke City’s first campaign in the Premier League. The home supporters at The Britannia Stadium were looking forward to the club’s first home match at this level against Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa side. This game would set the tone for their season and the style of play they were going to bring to the top-flight.

Stoke had lost their opening match of the season a week earlier, going down 3-1 at Bolton Wanderers, whilst Villa had beaten Manchester City 4-2 as Gabriel Agbonlahor helped himself to an opening weekend hat-trick. O’Neill’s side were considered the favourites as they turned up in Staffordshire for what turned out to be an engrossing Premier League battle.

Stoke had a secret weapon which they were about to share with the Premier League public. Rory Delap’s vicious long-throws were a tactic that would work on many occasions in their first couple of Premier League campaigns. Early on, it looked like Villa’s defenders were struggling with the extra aerial bombardment. They fell behind in the 30th minute to a slightly contentious penalty. Referee Mark Halsey believed Martin Laursen had clipped Delap in the penalty area. Liam Lawrence kept his composure and despite Brad Friedel guessing the right way, Lawrence’s spot-kick was good enough to defeat him and give the Potters’ their first Premier League home goal.

O’Neill was furious with Halsey’s decision and chased him down the tunnel at half-time. Whatever he said at the interval to his players, they came out a different team in the second half. Just past the hour mark, they were level. Ashley Young’s brilliant back heel played John Carew in. The tall Norwegian striker produced a trademark finish, across the bows of ex-Aston Villa goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.

With 10 minutes left, Stoke got back into the lead with a piece of individual brilliance from Ricardo Fuller. Flicking the ball away from Laursen, the Jamaican got the space he craved and from a tight angle, got the better of Friedel to put the home side back in control. Laursen was experiencing an uncomfortable afternoon but six minutes from time, he scored a fairly scrappy goal after Young drove a free-kick into the box which the defenders failed to clear.

It had been an end-to-end battle and a winner always looked likely. Sure enough, it came in injury-time for the Potters. With 30 seconds left, Delap played another dangerous throw-in and substitute Mamady Sidibe climbed highest. His header left Friedel stranded and ensured Stoke’s first Premier League win in a thrilling contest.

Tony Pulis’ side were tough to beat at home all season. Arsenal and Tottenham were among their victims on their way to a 12th-place finish. Aston Villa were in the UEFA Champions League qualification race until a dismal March saw them fade out of the picture but they still finished sixth for a second straight campaign.

Premier League Files: Guy Whittingham

Premier League Career: Aston Villa (1993-1994), Sheffield Wednesday (1994-1998)

Guy Whittingham played as a forward in his career for 17 seasons. He played for no fewer than 11 different clubs and this included an unproductive spell in the Premier League with Aston Villa and a slightly more rewarding spell with Sheffield Wednesday. Throughout his career, Whittingham appeared no fewer than 450 times.

Born in Evesham, Whittingham spent time in the army before making his mark as a footballer. His initial breakthrough came with non-league outfit Waterlooville, finishing as the club’s top goalscorer during the 1987-1988 season. After a season at Yeovil Town, he was signed by Portsmouth in the summer of 1989 which turned out to be the best period of his career. He scored 99 times in just 173 appearances including a staggering 42 league strikes in 1992-1993. Portsmouth only narrowly missed out on promotion to the top-flight on goals scored. His knack of finding the net earned him the nickname “Corporal Punishment” on the south coast.

In 1993, he signed for Aston Villa, joining intense competition already on the books at Villa Park. Up against Dean Saunders, Dalian Atkinson and Dwight Yorke, Guy struggled to recapture his Pompey form in the Midlands. Nevertheless, he did score two winning goals to defeat Everton and Sheffield United and also struck in a fantastic 2-1 away win at Highbury against Arsenal. In February 1994, Ron Atkinson allowed him to move on-loan to Wolverhampton Wanderers, which meant he missed out on Villa’s League Cup final triumph over Manchester United.

After scoring twice in eight appearances for Villa in 1994-1995, he was moved on by Brian Little, joining Sheffield Wednesday in December 1994 with Ian Taylor going in the opposite direction. Whittingham hit the ground running, scoring four goals in two matches against Everton and Coventry City during the 1994 Christmas period. Wednesday won 9-2 on aggregate in these games. In fact, December seemed to be his favourite time of the year. A year later, Guy scored in three successive league matches for the only time in his Premier League career. He netted in a 4-3 win over Coventry, a creditable 2-2 draw at Old Trafford and a 6-2 thumping of Yorkshire rivals Leeds United.

He was very popular at Hillsborough but despite being a fans’ favourite, he was never a guaranteed starter. He has some loan time back at Wolves, as well as at Watford and Portsmouth. Whittingham’s final Premier League appearance came as a late substitute in defeat to Coventry City in October 1998. He finished his Premier League career with 138 appearances, scoring 27 times before rejoining Portsmouth permanently in 1999.

Guy’s last season as a professional was in 2000-2001 and he actually scored goals for three different clubs in the Football League, notching for Peterborough United, Oxford United and Wycombe Wanderers. He also featured in Wycombe’s fairytale run to the FA Cup semi-finals before they were edged out at Villa Park by Liverpool FC.

He went into coaching after his playing retirement, becoming player-manager of Newport but left them in May 2005 when the club ran into financial trouble. He then took up a coaching role at Eastleigh in 2006 before joining the Portsmouth coaching staff in January 2009. He then guided the club through a couple of caretaker spells when financial peril hit Pompey and even enjoyed a seven-month stint as permanent boss in 2013. He is now a coach educator for the FA, a role he has held for the past four years.

Shock Results: Aston Villa 1-4 Coventry City (February 1999)

Goalscorers: John Aloisi 23, 75, George Boateng 51, 84, Dion Dublin 55 PEN

Teams:

Aston Villa: Michael Oakes, Riccardo Scimeca, Gareth Southgate, Steve Watson (Gareth Barry 44), Alan Wright, Simon Grayson, Lee Hendrie, Ian Taylor (Mark Draper 29, Stan Collymore 55), Paul Merson, Dion Dublin, Julian Joachim

Coventry City: Magnus Hedman, David Burrows, Paul Williams, Richard Shaw, Roland Nilsson, Steve Froggatt, Paul Telfer, George Boateng, Gary McAllister, John Aloisi, Darren Huckerby (Gary McSheffrey 90)

Referee: Uriah Rennie, Attendance: 38,799

For a long period in the 1998-1999 season, Aston Villa were seen as genuine title contenders. They were top of the table on Christmas Day but by the end of February, they were wilting under the pressure. Three successive defeats had dropped them to fourth place in the table and they needed to get back to winning ways in this Midlands derby with Coventry City.

As with usual tradition, the Sky Blues were in the midst of a relegation tussle, so their chances of pulling off a victory at Villa Park were seen as slim despite the drop in form from John Gregory’s side.

Coventry took the lead in the 23rd minute. On his return to Villa Park, Steve Froggatt set-up a chance for Australian forward John Aloisi to score. Aloisi, making his first start in eight games, guided his shot past Michael Oakes, leaving Riccardo Scimeca rather flat-footed in the process.

That was the main highlight of a disappointing first half but Coventry’s desire to win seemed greater. As the sleet started to fall around the ground, the gloom began to deepen for Villa supporters. George Boateng powered a shot home at the near post after some careless possession play from the home side. Coventry, who had won at Villa Park in the FA Cup a season ago were closing in on a rare away win.

Gregory needed a response from his team. He got it in the 55th minute. Richard Shaw’s clumsy challenge on Julian Joachim saw Uriah Rennie point to the penalty spot. Former Coventry lynchpin Dion Dublin, who had transferred to the Villans in early November, emphatically dispatched the penalty beyond Magnus Hedman. It was his first goal of 1999.

Aston Villa had come from 2-0 down earlier in the season to earn a point away at Nottingham Forest and to beat Arsenal but this was going to be a different story. With 15 minutes left, Coventry regained their two-goal advantage. From Froggatt’s free-kick, Aloisi connected perfectly on the volley and struck the ball well beyond Oakes. Aloisi was only starting because injury had ruled Noel Whelan out. He’d taken his chance and in breathtaking fashion.

Boateng completely dominated the midfield battle and with six minutes remaining, he put the icing on the cake for the travelling fans. Gary McAllister chipped a ball through which horribly exposed Villa’s frail offside trap. Boateng ghosted past a rather static Alan Wright, then beat the onrushing Oakes to the ball, getting enough on the contact to lob the ball into the back of the net. Coventry’s joy was complete. This was their first-ever league victory at Villa Park and it was well worth the wait. They’d finish in 15th position whilst Villa only managed sixth and missed out completely on European qualification. Their season which had promised so much ultimately delivered so little.

The Managers: John Gregory

Premier League Clubs Managed: Aston Villa (1998-2002), Derby County (2002)

In 2015, it looked like John Gregory’s managerial career would be cut short when health reasons forced him to step down from his position at Crawley Town. Happily, Gregory has made a full recovery and is back in management over in India, currently as manager of Chennaiyin.

Recently, 20 years have passed since his appointment as Aston Villa manager where he took them to a title challenge tilt in his first full season and an FA Cup final appearance before an ill-fated spell at one of his playing clubs in Derby County that ended with Premier League relegation in 2002.

Playing in his teens

Gregory made his professional debut as a player at the age of just 18 in 1972. His first club was Northampton Town, scoring eight times in 187 league appearances before earning his big chance with Aston Villa in 1977.

It was a big step-up for John from his time with the Cobblers but he handled the pressure very well, even if his spell with the Villans was restricted to just two seasons. Gregory became the only player to play in every outfield position, wearing every number from 2 to 11 over his two seasons with the club, which remains a record.

After two years on the seaside with Brighton & Hove Albion, Gregory moved to Queens Park Rangers in 1981, enjoying the most successful period of his playing career at Loftus Road. In his first full season in west London, he was part of the team that reached the FA Cup final but experienced the agony of losing that final to Tottenham Hotspur. It was a pain that John would also experience as a manager a full 18 years later.

He helped QPR qualify for the UEFA Cup in 1984 but after Terry Venables left to accept the position as Barcelona manager, their form dipped and Gregory elected to move to Derby County in 1985.

Derby had been champions of England twice in the 1970s but by 1985, had dropped into the Third Division. With Gregory’s guile and experience, the Rams returned into the limelight with back-to-back promotions. After helping them survive their first campaign back in the top-flight, he announced his retirement as a player in 1988, although he did briefly come out of retirement two years later for very brief spells with Plymouth Argyle and Bolton Wanderers.

Cutting his apprenticeship

It would be six years between the end of Gregory’s playing career and his first steps into permanent management. His apprenticeship as a coach was during Brian Little’s days as manager with Leicester City and Aston Villa. He joined Little’s team in 1991 and followed him to Villa Park three years later.

In September 1996, he got the opportunity to go his own way with Wycombe Wanderers. At the time, it was one of the toughest jobs to make your mark. Wycombe were bottom of Division Two but he stabilised them and took them to a solid mid-table finish.

He had turned Wycombe into a play-off challenger in Division Two when Little resigned as Aston Villa manager in February 1998 after a 2-1 loss to Wimbledon left them floundering in 15th place in the table. Although big names were linked to the post, including Dutchman Ruud Gullit, Gregory was given the opportunity to return to Villa Park to revive their fortunes.

He revealed recently: “Villa had a group of players that should not be, under any circumstances, be worried about the threat of relegation.”

A wonderful honeymoon

His first match was a home game with Liverpool FC. Villa had lost five of their previous seven matches and Gregory had inherited a squad that he knew greatly from his days of being on Little’s coaching staff. The only exception was Stan Collymore and their relationship would be destructive.

It started well. Collymore put in an unstoppable performance against the club that had sold him the previous summer, scoring twice in Villa’s 2-1 victory. It was the high point of a very tempestuous relationship.

Collymore was involved in a highly-publicised bust-up with his girlfriend Ulrika Jonsson in the summer of 1998 and was never the same player after that. He struggled with depression and stress and it was something the manager struggled to help him with. He eventually loaned him out to Fulham and would release him in 2000 to join Leicester City.

Insults have been traded over the years but Gregory accepts mistakes were made on his behalf. He said: “It pains me to admit that I failed miserably in showing any kind of compassion to his long drawn out periods of depression. I still cannot understand how someone so young, fit, handsome and wealthy can suffer from such an illness.”

Aside from Collymore, the rest of the playing squad looked revitalised under his coaching. Villa rallied to seventh place at the end of the 1997-1998 campaign and qualified for the UEFA Cup. Despite selling Dwight Yorke to Manchester United, the momentum continued for the rest of the 1998 calendar year.

Aston Villa stayed unbeaten until mid-November and were top of the table on Christmas Day, losing just three times in the first half of the season. Going into 1999, Gregory’s team looked like a serious title challenger alongside Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. It had been a wonderful honeymoon period but it wasn’t to last.

Second suffering at Wembley

The Villans form crumbled after an FA Cup exit in January 1999 to Fulham. They folded in the title race and didn’t even qualify for Europe, finishing sixth in the final 1998-1999 standings.

A run to the FA Cup final in 2000 was the highlight of John’s next two seasons at the helm, guiding them to the final-ever final before Wembley would be demolished and redeveloped. They met Chelsea but the occasion seemed to get to the better of the players on the day. Roberto Di Matteo’s scrappy second half winner saw Chelsea claim the cup and produced a second final suffering for Gregory after his pain as a player with Queens Park Rangers.

In 2001-2002, the club had a brief taste of top spot in the table again, hitting the summit at the end of October after a 3-2 success at home to Bolton Wanderers. However, only three wins in 13 games followed which dropped them to seventh and two-goal leads were blown in the Premier League away to Arsenal and in the FA Cup at home to Manchester United.

In late January 2002, Gregory walked away from Aston Villa and was immediately linked with the vacancy at his former playing club, Derby County.

A Derby disaster

His first game as Derby manager came less than 10 days after exiting Aston Villa and Lee Morris scored the only goal in a 1-0 success over Tottenham Hotspur.

An away victory at already doomed Leicester City followed and only a controversial disallowed goal stopped them beating Manchester United at Pride Park. Unfortunately, seven defeats from the Rams last eight fixtures saw their six-year stay in England’s top-flight come to an end.

Gregory stayed on but couldn’t buy any players due to financial restrictions and Derby struggled back in Division One. He was sacked in March 2003 for alleged misconduct and took the club to court for unfair dismissal.

The protracted legal action meant he was out of the game for three years but he was successful in his case, winning £1 million in compensation. Needless to say, his Derby spell was a disaster.

Since then, John has been globetrotting with spells as a manager in Kazakhstan and Israel along with stints at Queens Park Rangers and Crawley Town.

With Crawley struggling in the League One relegation zone in December 2014, Gregory stepped down with the club revealing he needed open heart surgery in January 2015. After a long period of recuperation, he made a full recovery and is currently in India, adding to his managerial CV.

Passive was not a word to use about John Gregory. He had a good reputation for working with difficult characters and getting the best out of them. He was good also with soundbites for the media. When Yorke left Villa for Manchester United in August 1998, he jokingly said in a media conference: “Dwight came into my office a couple of weeks ago and stated he wanted to play for Manchester United and he didn’t want to play for Aston Villa. If I’d had a gun at the time, I think I would have shot him!”

One thing he does know after his health scare is he knows the true meaning of life and it being more important than management.

Shock Results: Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa (August 2013)

Goalscorers: Olivier Giroud 6, Christian Benteke 22, 61 PEN, Antonio Luna 85

Teams:

Arsenal: Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs (Carl Jenkinson 28), Laurent Koscielny (SENT OFF), Per Mertesacker, Bacary Sagna (Lukas Podolski 90), Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Santi Cazorla 46), Tomas Rosicky, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott

Aston Villa: Brad Guzan, Nathan Baker (Ciaran Clark 17), Matthew Lowton, Antonio Luna, Ron Vlaar, Fabian Delph, Karim El Ahmadi, Ashley Westwood, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke, Andreas Weimann (Leandro Bacuna 88)

Referee: Anthony Taylor, Attendance: 60,003

There was a real malaise around Arsenal heading into the 2013-2014 Premier League season. Whilst all of the other major title contenders had been busy in the transfer market, notably north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Arsene Wenger had once again elected to keep his chequebook safely in the back pocket.

Although there had been talk about bringing players in like Luis Suarez, Luiz Gustavo and Gonzalo Higuain, none of these transfers had materialised. No new signings were around by the time the season got underway which was with a home fixture against Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa. By the full-time whistle, the pressure was most evidently on the experienced Frenchman.

The afternoon did start well enough for Wenger. They were infront after just six minutes and it was a very poor goal for Villa to concede. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain galloped down the left-hand side completely unchallenged and he pulled the ball back for Olivier Giroud to open the scoring. Giroud would go on to score in the first four matches of the Premier League season.

Villa levelled matters on 22 minutes. Gabriel Agbonlahor evaded three challenges as the Arsenal spine caved open. He was fouled by goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny. Andreas Weimann hit the side netting from the next phase of play but Anthony Taylor elected to bring the play back and award the visitors a penalty. Szczesny was booked and some felt he was lucky to stay on considering Agbonlahor was in a potential goalscoring opportunity. The Pole nearly came to the rescue, when he saved Christian Benteke’s weak penalty. However, the Belgian was in the right place to nod home the rebound and make the score 1-1.

Just past the hour mark and Villa took the lead as they were aiming at a third league win at The Emirates Stadium since 2008. Agbonlahor pinched possession off half-time substitute Santi Cazorla and bore down on-goal. Laurent Koscielny came across and it looked like he’d made a great tackle. Taylor disagreed, gave the Villans their second spot-kick of the afternoon and booked Koscielny. Replays showed the Frenchman was desperately unlucky to be punished. This time, Benteke made no mistake from 12-yards to give Lambert’s side what was a deserved lead.

Arsenal day was about to get even worse. Just six minutes after going into the referee’s notebook, Koscielny collected a second yellow card for a rash tackle on Weimann. It was the second time on the opening weekend Koscielny had received his marching orders. He suffered a similar fate at Anfield in 2010.

As Arsenal pushed forward in a desperate search for an equaliser, further gaps emerged at the back. New Aston Villa signing Antonio Luna produced a reverse shot inside Szczesny’s near post on the counter-attack to seal a wonderful victory for the away side. At the full-time whistle, Wenger was greeted to boos and banners of “Spend, spend, spend Arsene!” Arsenal did sign Mesut Ozil weeks later and topped the table for much of the campaign but ultimately finished fourth. Villa finished only 15th but this was their best moment of another difficult season at Villa Park.